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Can you legislate common sense?

The City of Birmingham, Alabama, thinks the answer is yes! In the April 28, 2020, Birmingham City Council Meeting, the city council unanimously passed an ordinance requiring that masks be worn while in public. A mask, defined by the ordinance as “a device to cover the nose and mouth of a person to impede the spread of saliva or other fluids during speaking, coughing, sneezing or other intentional or involuntary action.” It is noteworthy that the masks are not required to be medical-grade, just that they cover the wearer’s nose and mouth.

Failure to comply with this ordinance is punishable by a fine of up to $500 and/or up to 30 days in the municipal jail. Mayor Randall Woodfin says a violation of the ordinance should be treated like a curfew violation. Violators will be allowed to either pay a fine or appear in court.

Of course, one of the purposes of any government in the United States (local, state, federal) is to provide for the common good of their citizenry, which most certainly includes public health. To that end, the answer to the question—at least in reference to mandating masks—is yes! Georgia, like many other states, has laws in place that take into account such actions necessary for the good of the whole.

If you take a look at the emergency declaration or the ordinance, such as shown below, you’ll note that the precedent law is cited establishing authority for the decree.

WHEREAS, pursuant to O.C.G.A. §38-3-28, the Mayor and City Council, as the governing authority of a political subdivision of the State of Georgia, is authorized to make, amend and rescind orders, rules and regulations as necessary for emergency purposes and to supplement carrying out the emergency management laws; and
WHEREAS, under O.C.G.A. §38-3-6, emergency powers created by the law are intended to be liberally construed so as to allow government officials to meet the demands of emergencies within their jurisdictions; and
WHEREAS, pursuant to O.C.G.A. §38-3-51, the Governor of the state of Georgia has declared a public health emergency which authorizes the Mayor and City Council to use emergency powers as set out in O.C.G.A.§38-3-1 through 38-3-64.

In the case of Georgia, there are several laws in place to support this decision and others such as curfews. While you can’t really legislate common sense, you can put in place laws and ordinances that help protect the general public.


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